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The Obamas’ chef died from an accidental drowning on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts medical examiner says

A lighthouse along the water in Martha`s Vineyard, Massachusetts. (Jeff Stein/Dreamstime/TNS)
August 23, 2023

The Obamas’ 45-year-old personal chef died from an accidental drowning near the former president’s Martha’s Vineyard estate, according to the state’s Chief Medical Examiner.

Tafari Campbell, of Virginia, died in late July after paddleboarding on Edgartown Great Pond. His body was recovered a day after he went missing by Mass State Police divers — about 100 feet from shore at a depth of about eight feet.

Campbell was not wearing a personal flotation device and he was not leashed to the paddleboard when he lost balance and went underwater.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner on Tuesday released the finalized cause and manner of death for Campbell:

Cause: Drowning

Manner: Accident

How injury occurred: Submersion in a body of water

In the immediate aftermath of Campbell’s death, Massachusetts State Police said the initial investigation showed that there was no evidence that the death was suspicious. Police did not find any external trauma or injuries.

Another paddleboarder on the pond told police that Campbell was standing on his paddleboard, lost his balance and fell into the water — then struggled to stay afloat before going underwater. The fellow paddleboarder tried to swim to Campbell’s location, but did not reach him in time.

The Herald asked the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner about the toxicology report.

“Toxicology is not a public record in Massachusetts, so we would not make it available,” a spokesperson for the office stated.

Campbell was a sous chef at the White House when the Obamas first met him. Then when the former president’s second term ended, Campbell became the Obamas’ personal chef.

He leaves behind a wife and twin boys.

“Tafari Campbell showed us what true character looks like,” Barack Obama posted on social media earlier this month. “He believed that actions speak louder than words. And he used his immense gifts to bring people together, provide comfort, and spread joy. I’ll miss him every day.”


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